Trains For America

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California already gearing up for HSR battle

Although the state bond measure that would approve the initial $9 billion in funding for California’s proposed high speed rail corridor won’t be appearing on the ballot until this November, rail advocates and other groups are already preparing for a PR battle in the state. Their opponents will be the usual suspects: the automotive industry, the airlines, sprawl developers… all the groups that have kept America’s attitude toward transportation backwards for decades. They’ll be trying to turn the public’s misconceptions about HSR and funding against the project, and, if history teaches us anything, their war chest is going to considerable. Steve Blackledge of CalPIRG, a California public interest group, has written an eloquent call to arms for the project:

I’ll bet dollars to donuts our opponents will buy television time and hire consultants to meet with newspaper editors, do TV and radio appearances and roll out propaganda campaigns to stop high-speed rail, especially in the fall, when there will be a bond measure on the ballot.

What can we do to counter that onslaught? What we do best. Have face-to-face conversations with tens of thousands of Californians to cut through the hype and give them the facts about the benefits of high-speed rail. We estimate that we have the capacity to talk to 100,000 Californians face-to-face this summer about the high-speed rail project.

Right now more than half of Californians don’t know about the high-speed rail project. They don’t know that it will slash pollution, reduce traffic (reducing up to 92 million cars trips in California per year), and they don’t know it will cost less than the highway and airport expansions we’ll need without it. But if we let our opposition tell their side of the story first Californians may never hear the full story.

Companies that make a lot of money on bigger highways and airports stand to lose a lot from high-speed rail. Several years ago Southwest Airlines helped kill a similar high-speed rail proposal in Texas.

Robert Cruickshank has a similarly well-written deconstruction of a typical anti-HSR sentiment, including funding concerns, on his California High Speed Rail blog. It’s well worth a read.

This project isn’t just important for California; if built, it will obviously serve as a model for similar systems throughout the country. A loss in the country’s most progressive state, in this period of surging fuel prices would be devastating to American rail.

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